Friday, 1 May 2015

Bethany Williams: The Significance of the Senses: An Exploration into the Multi-Sensory Experience of Faith for the Lay Population of Christianity during the Fourth and Fifth Centuries C.E.

From the study of sense perception in relation to faith a particular trend in modern, patristic scholarship called the ‘material or corporeal turn’ has emerged. This ‘turn’ refers to a shift in Christianity’s physical sensibility as occurring post-legalisation, marking late antique as distinct from earlier Christianity. Carol Harrison makes a useful distinction between the two terms ‘material’ and ‘corporeal’: my research works from the premise that these two terms are separate and distinct. Following its legalisation Christianity categorically underwent a ‘material turn’. Whilst Christianity cannot be accurately referred to as taking a ‘corporeal turn’, it did however enjoy a revived employment and an intensified engagement of the body and its senses post-313 C.E.

Against this scholarly background I pose the question: how did such employment and engagement of the body and its senses impact upon the formulation of the early Christians faith? My current research explores the ‘sensory experience of faith’, that is, ‘the way in which the senses actively participated in formulating the faith of the early Christians’, specifically through analysing the rite of initiation in its late antique form. In this presentation I will put forward the following argument: in Late Antiquity the physical, bodily senses were considered to be intrinsically formational, transformational and revelatory.  Further, the rite of initiation existed as a complete assault of the senses: it was through the senses that the catechumen’s faith was formed during the rite, impressed upon his/her mind, heart and soul and sealed by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

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